Kenya is among the best African countries to do business and invest in. One of the areas of Kenyan financial markets that recently increased in value is its real estate market. For the past two decades, the Kenyan real estate market has grown exponentially as evidenced by its contribution to the country’s GDP, which grow from 10.5% in 2000 to 12.6% in 2012 and 13.8% in 2016. This growth was driven by several factors: (1) infrastructural developments such as improved roads, utility connections, and upgrades of airports; (2) Stable GDP growth, which averaged at 5.4% over the last five years against a Sub-Saharan average of 4.1%; (3) demographic trend such as rapid urbanization at 4.4% against the world’s 2.5%; and (4) high total returns averaging at 25% against 12.4 in the traditional asset classes. These factors greatly impacted the real estate market in Kenya, and attracted many foreign investors to leave the equity market to allocate their funds to the real estate market.
In 2019, the Kenyan real estate market struggled amidst falling demand caused by constrained credit access, coupled with the continued oversupply of high-end residential developments. Indeed, during the third quarter of 2019, the Hass Composite Property Sales Index, a measure of asking sales prices of residential properties, fell by 3.4% in sharp contrast to a YoY rise of 8.1% during the same period the year prior. However, by 2021, the Kenyan housing market began to recover. Detached houses recorded the highest gain at 1.7% that year while apartments retreated by 0.7% over the same time.
The 2023 Wealth Report by realtor Knight Frank shows that in 2022, investments in commercial property comprised up to 40% of rich Kenyans’ portfolios while stocks only accounted for 18%. This year, more than 60% of Kenyans worth at least $ 1 million (Ksh 128 million) planned to invest in private rental property, even as the domestic stock market suffers investor apathy as stockholders move to the more attractive government securities. Bonds, which constituted 26% of rich Kenyans’ investments last year, continue pulling investors off the stock market with their better returns compared to equities, which have been impacted by companies’ reduced profits occasioned by last year’s macroeconomic shocks. The Kenyan housing market is primarily a rental market. Affordability is critical in such a market. The residential sector has been experiencing the highest demand due to a rapidly growing population and an expanding middle-class. Rental returns are estimated to range from 6% and 8%.
Infrastructural development has seen land values go up while a growing population has ensured sustained demand. In the hope that land will continue to increase in value, investors are increasingly buying land for the long-term. Nevertheless, land bought near commercial areas could be used to generate income on a regular basis while the principal value continues to appreciate.
Prior to the promulgation of the new constitution in Kenya in 2010, foreign investors were not allowed to own land in Kenya. However, after the promulgation, foreigners could then comfortably invest and own real estate in Kenya. According to the Land Registration Act of 2012, non-Kenyan citizens are allowed to own property but with few restrictions. The main characteristic of land ownership for foreign investors is leasehold ownership. This leasehold ownership empowers the Kenyan government to decide the type of developments and terms of lease for such properties. Nevertheless, foreign investors are entitled to own land on a 99-year lease tenure. Most foreigners currently invest in holiday homes, office complexes, and commercial facilities. The Kenyan land policy allows foreign investors to own land (1) in person, (2) in trust, or (3) as a company. Indeed, this law provided a reliever to these foreign investors who could now tap into the growth of the Kenyan real estate market.